Students volunteer over summer to bring clean water to people in South America

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On August 27, 2019

An S&T Engineers Without Borders team member surveys land in 2019. Photo submitted by EWB Student Design Team.

Throughout the summer, two teams of Missouri S&T students traveled to three locations in South America to help source clean water and construct well systems in several remote and impoverished communities.

The students are involved with Missouri S&T’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) student design team, which partners with developing communities to improve quality of life through the implementation of environmentally and economically sustainable engineering projects while developing internationally responsible engineering students. This summer, the teams traveled to Puerto Pando, Bolivia; Atahuallani, Bolivia; and Agua Fria, Ecuador, to help provide clean water and sanitation to the areas.

The Puerto Pando, Bolivia, group assessed a water system that it implemented on a previous trip and fix parts of the system that were in disrepair. The team also conducted community leader interviews and water tests to evaluate the system’s effectiveness and use.

“The community took a storage tank design that we had built on a previous trip and copied it to build their own tank, which they use for water storage,” says Cade Long, one of the team leaders and a senior in engineering management from Marble Hill, Missouri. “This was amazing to see, as we didn’t provide any guidance in this process, yet they learned from us by watching and studying our design. This felt like a ‘proud teaching moment,’ as seeing their success with no help from us was awe-inspiring and reassured us that our system would be left in good hands.”

The same team then traveled to Atahuallani, Bolivia, a mountaintop community at over 12,000 feet in elevation. There, the EWB team surveyed various locations in topography and collected water samples from local sources. This was one of the first trips to this location for the team and was focused on information collection and working with the local community to build a relationship.

“Getting the community in Atahuallani to trust the team is the first hurdle to overcome for the team,” says Dr. Christi Luks, an EWB team faculty advisor and an associate teaching professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at S&T. “The community has had a poor experience in the past with an external group, so the S&T team has to show how its work will benefit the community and how past experiences have helped other locations.”

The Agua Fria, Ecuador, trip involved team members working for six days side-by-side with community members to build a rainwater catchment system and basic filtration system at a local school. The catchment system will have a 7,500 liter capacity and will provide year-long access to potable water for the school children. The team also worked to teach community members how to implement a similar system on individual homes.

Photo submitted by EWB team.

“Being able to provide water to this community was a life-changing experience,” says Sierra Shields, an EWB team leader and a senior in geological engineering from Springfield, Missouri. “Getting to hear directly from the community, about how much it means to them to have our help, made me excited for what more we can do for them and proud of what we have been able to accomplish thus far.”

From the Ecuador team’s water samples, the students found that the rainwater catchment systems provided water with significantly less bacteria than the river water that was being used as a drinking water source.

Learn more about all the EWB student design team projects by visiting

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On August 27, 2019. Posted in News

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